Naomi Sleeper
Director of Business Development
Imperial Distributors

 

While I typically write about non-foods in supermarkets, this month’s timely Griffin feature on “Women of Influence in the Food Industry” inspired me to dedicate this column to the contribution of the many women in our own professional community and reflect on the role women play in our industry.

Last month, I joined 175,000 people for the Women’s March in Boston. The energy, strength and pride of the group – at this gathering and hundreds of others around the globe – showed the strength of women’s voices in our society. Yet, as we know, women are still significantly under-represented in leadership roles in business and in the supermarket, retail and consumer goods sectors, specifically. According to research by the Pew Research Center, women represent a little over 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, and hold only about 17% of Fortune 500 board seats. Despite the fact that women make up the majority of consumers – our industry’s target customer — leadership in the food industry, in particular, has also been male-dominated.

As the Network of Executive Women’s (NEW) Women 2020 Report points out, “women are especially well suited to lead in today’s changing marketplace.” A 2012 McKinsey survey showed that the four “most important leadership attributes for success” identified by global business executives – “intellectual stimulation, inspiration, participatory decision-making and setting expectations/rewards – were most commonly found among women leaders.” Women are also ranked as more “inclusive, collaborative, and empathetic” than their male colleagues, and offer diverse perspectives and skills that are essential for cultivating creativity, innovation and differentiation necessary for companies to attract customers. Women also outpace men in higher education, earning a higher percentage of bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees than men. Yet, the gender gap in senior leadership positions persists.

Gender bias remains a significant barrier to women’s achievement of high executive positions. Harvard Business Review (2013) describes the institutional “second-generation” bias that discriminatorily, though not deliberately, favors men in leadership. Part of the effect is the comparative lack of “stretch” opportunities or assignments offered to women in the workplace. This points to the critical role that our organizations need to play in cultivating women leaders.

Creating an organizational culture where talent can thrive and rise to the top is critical to achieving a fully productive and inclusive organization. As identified by many of this year’s Griffin Report Women of Influence, mentorship is key to the success of developing leaders in our companies. Like many of this year’s award winners, I have been fortunate to benefit from the guidance of colleagues and managers who have helped build my confidence and skills through ambitious work goals, as well as a supportive and inclusive work environment that embraces professional growth and new ideas. Women’s associations can also play an important role in fostering female talent and building networks that support women in effecting positive change in our industry. Regional and national associations like the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and Women Grocers of America (WGA) provide opportunities for mentorship, peer networking, leadership training, and career development.

This year’s Griffin Report Women of Influence exemplify the leadership, dedication and contribution that women offer to our industry. These women embody key attributes of effective leaders: confidence, passion, curiosity, engagement, ambition, openness, team-orientation, perseverance, respect, and integrity.

As we work toward gender equality across our country and professional settings, we recognize the value of diversity in making our organizations more robust, productive, innovative, adaptive and profitable. Congratulations to this year’s Women of Influence for your contributions to this growth and achievements in our industry.